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Israel welcomed the UN Security Council's decision Friday to keep UNIFIL peacekeepers in Lebanon for another 12 months, but called for stepped up efforts to free the two IDF soldiers kidnapped by Hizbullah and action to disarm the Shi'ite militia.
Reacting to the unanimous vote, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Israel continues to hold Lebanon responsible for actions taking place on Lebanese territory. She called on the international community to show determination and implement in full UN Security Council Resolution 1701 (that ended the Second Lebanon war a year ago), which demands the return of kidnapped soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev and disarming Hizbullah.
UN Ambassador Dan Gillerman welcomed Friday's resolution, but expressed concern that major elements in the resolution remain unresolved: the fate of two kidnapped soldiers, the continuing flow of arms and the continuing presence of Hizbullah fighters in southern Lebanon.
The UNIFIL force was deployed after the war to help Lebanese troops extend their authority into southern Lebanon for the first time in decades, and create a buffer zone free of Hizbullah fighters.
The resolution approved Friday says the 13,600-strong UNIFIL force has helped 15,000 Lebanese troops establish "a new strategic environment" along Lebanon's southern border with Israel, although more needs to be done to clear the area of unauthorized fighters and weapons. It did not elaborate on either point.
France's Deputy UN Ambassador Jean-Pierre Lacroix, whose country sponsored the resolution, said it "sends a message that there is still a lot to do to achieve lasting stabilization in Lebanon."
US Deputy Ambassador Alejandro Wolff expressed "deep concern about illegal weapons transfers across the Syrian-Lebanese border," saying a June 24 explosion that killed six Spanish UNIFIL soldiers and a June 17 rocket attack against Israel demonstrate the need for all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias to be disbanded and disarmed.
"Peace will never be secured until this call is met," he said, urging Iran and Syria to honor an arms embargo.
Syria and Iran have denied moving weapons into Lebanon, and Russia and South Africa objected to the US raising what they called an unrelated issue.
Lebanon's UN envoy chose not to speak to the council or to reporters.
The Security Council expressed "grave concern" earlier this month at reports of arms smuggling into Lebanon, but dropped a direct call to Syria and Iran to enforce a UN arms embargo. Instead, a council statement underscored the obligation of all countries, "in particular, [those] in the region," to ensure that the embargo is not violated.
Friday's resolution calls on Israel and Lebanon to respect the cessation of hostilities and the UN-drawn Blue Line boundary between the two countries. It also said there was a need for greater progress toward a permanent cease-fire and a long-term solution to the conflict.
AP contributed to this report.
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